In a major defense of Malaysia’s judicial independence, its highest court upheld the conviction of former prime minister Najib Razak, ending his bid to overturn a 12-year prison sentence. In its judgment, the Federal Court found that Razak’s allegations of trial bias were “inherently inconsistent” and said Razak raised no substantial evidence to warrant appellate intervention. Instead, in a detailed judgment, Chief Justice Maimun Tuan Mat wrote, “this is a simple and straightforward case of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.” The court ordered Najib to begin his confinement and pay a 210 million ringgit fine.
In 2020, Najib was found guilty of four counts related to his involvement in the 1MBD scandal, which involved a sovereign wealth fund created in 2008 to support economic development. In the decade since its founding, billions of dollars raised for development projects have been secretly transferred to offshore bank accounts linked to many high-profile figures in Malaysia.
He is suggested that Najib personally received over $700 million, which he used for lavish personal expenses. Denying any wrongdoing, Najib claimed he was misled as to the source of the funds, telling the court he believed they were gifts given to him by Saudi Arabia. These requests were rejected by the Court, which describe the defense of the former prime minister “devoid of any merit”.
Expressing the importance of the decision for the rule of law in Malaysia, National Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim Told CNBC, “I think it’s a good start. And it reforms and matures Malaysia as a vibrant democracy with strong institutions. The verdict was widely welcomed across the country, with hope the decision will send a “Strong warning to other politicians who even think of embezzling public funds.”
Adib Zalkapli, from the political consultancy BowerGroupAsia, describe the verdict as “unprecedented”. adding: “Najib will be remembered for his many firsts, the first prime minister to lose a general election, [and] the first to be condemned. Malaysian lawyer Lim Wei Jet said the reality that “Malaysia’s most powerful man can be held accountable in court sends a positive message about our nation’s judicial independence”.
Longest serving Malaysian prime minister Told Bloomberg that Najib would seek a pardon from the current government and that there was a “50-50 chance” he would get one. This would have converging meaning given that it would allow Najib to continue both to serve in parliament and to pursue broader political ambitions.
The decision is a milestone in the development of Malaysian jurisprudence, enshrining the independence of its judiciary and the principle of equality before the law. The 1MBD scandal has significantly damaged the nation’s international perception, and the decision is expected to reinvigorate its position as a leading democratic power in Asia.
The ramifications of the scandal were widespread; in 2020, US investment bank Goldman Sachs paid over $5 billion to settle a case investigating their money laundering facilitation.
Preserving judicial independence is paramount in providing checks and balances on government power in Malaysia. The significance of the Federal Court’s decision to uphold Najib’s conviction is bifurcated; not only did they forcefully proclaim their independence, but they gave all Malaysians reason to have confidence in the integrity of its public institutions. Such trust is central to maintaining civil stability and preventing the usurpation of political power. Amid 15 consecutive years of an ever-faster decline in democratic institutions around the world, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic, Malaysia’s efforts to punish corruption are a testament to its resilience and are particularly important for its future.
The decision by Malaysia’s highest court to uphold the corruption conviction against its former prime minister marks an important step in the development of a strong judicial system in the country. The judgment from the bench is a defense of civil rights and reflects the importance of applying justice universally.